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House turmoil spurs party calls for resignations

HARRISBURG -- Less than 24 hours after a tumultuous committee meeting in the state House, the chairmen of Pennsylvania's Democratic and Republican parties called for the resignation of the opposition floor leaders.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn of Millvale on Thursday called on Gov. Tom Corbett, a Shaler Republican, to urge House Republicans to demand the resignation of Majority Leader Mike Turzai in the aftermath of the meeting in which Turzai led an effort to block Democrats' amendments on government reform bills.

Burn, however, declined to denounce Democratic lawmakers who jeered, booed, hissed and swore at Turzai and Republicans during a meeting of the House Rules Committee on Wednesday.

"Jim Burn's a partisan hack who's afraid we'll have success moving the voters' agenda forward," said Turzai, R-Bradford Woods. "He wants to retain the Rendell status quo," he added, referring to former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat.

Republican Party Chairman Rob Gleason of Johnstown demanded that Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, resign for failing to control his members.

"Minority Leader Frank Dermody and House Democrats' deplorable behavior yesterday showed exactly why Pennsylvania voters fired them from the majority, and I hope that they are quickly reminded that they are in Harrisburg to serve their constituents, not their own selfish interests," Gleason said.

Dermody "is honored that his colleagues chose him to be Democratic leader, and he will continue to defend the ability of all House members to effectively do their jobs," said Bill Patton, a Dermody spokesman.

The idea that either leader would resign based on a call from the opposition party chairman is "absurd," said Tom Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre.

"It's apparent there's a lot of frustration on the part of Democrats who lost control of the House and the governorship" in November, he said. But the Republicans' reaction to what they perceived as a threat to their reform agenda was "a bit extreme," Baldino added.

House Republican leaders claimed that Democrats were trying to derail reform bills, including one pushed by Corbett for a searchable online database on state spending for taxpayers. Republicans charged that 42 amendments proposed by Democrats were an effort to create a circus atmosphere and bog down change demanded by voters.

The GOP approved a rule that will enable the majority to table amendments proposed by Democrats without delaying the entire bill. Republicans also decided to reduce representation on House committees from 10 to nine Democratic members.

Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley, said the governor would work with lawmakers in both parties toward government reform.

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